Expecting the return of Christ (6)

Bible readings

  • Romans 8:22-39
  • 2Thessalonians 2:9-17

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Young William Wilberforce was discouraged one night in the early 1790s after another defeat in his 10 year battle against the slave trade in England. Tired and frustrated, he opened his Bible and began to leaf through it. A small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. It was a letter written by John Wesley shortly before his death. Wilberforce reread it: 

“Unless the divine power has raised you up… I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that (abominable practice of slavery), which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might.” 

Unless God has raised you up, … you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God is for you, who can be against you?

Before the return of Christ

When the apostle Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica—some of whom were bewildered by the false teachings of some who taught that Christ had already returned—he made it clear that the Second Coming won’t happen before at least three events took place:

  • The Gospel had to be proclaimed to those whom God had chosen; in the same way as they themselves had received the Gospel, so it has to be declared all over the world.  This is according to the word of our Lord:  

… and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:11–14, NIV)

  • Then, when the fullness of time for the Gospel has arrived, the Lawless One will be revealed.  We briefly looked at this last week.
  • The coming of the Lawless One will be the beginning of great oppression of believers, as well as an unprecedented and powerful delusion which lead millions of people to believe the lie and to destruction.

Some Christians in Thessalonica went into some sort of paralyzing shock and became idle.  Paul warns:  

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6, NIV)

Their idleness could be the result of them thinking that the return of the Lord was so close that they could stop earning a living.  It could also be that they went into a form of spiritual hiding out of fear that they could expose themselves to the Lawless One and as such, be open to his deception.  This is not the behaviour of a Christian.

The deception of the Lawless One

As we understood it last week, living in the final days before the Second Coming, things for Christians will undoubtedly be wearisome.  It will be a time of persecution, oppression, brutal affliction, and even the loss of life.  We need to be prepared for it; I would not be doing my job as pastor and interpreter of the Word of God if I don’t prepare you for this ferocious hostility of the enemy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  

Once the church has completed its role of bearing witness to Christ before the world, it will appear to be defeated as Jesus taught his disciples:   

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (Matthew 24:9, NIV)

This will happen immediately before Christ’s Second Coming and the final vindication of all the saints.  This will be a period of intensified brutality and the historical climax of suffering for the Christian temple, the church.  John writes in Revelation 11:7,

Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. (Revelation 11:7, NIV)

Though the Christians are to be defeated in the eyes of the world, their demise will lead to Satan and his agents’ final defeat. The final judgment of earthly persecutors is the full answer to the saints’  prayer  

They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10, NIV)

Satan’s spirit has stood behind the earthly persecutors throughout history, but in the end, he will be manifested openly and “defeat” the church finally. That “rising of the beast is something which has been present throughout the church’s period of witness and not something new at its completion.  Revelation 13 tells us that the single reason that the beast arises from the sea is to make war with the saints and to overcome them.

The Church

The place the Evil One primarily concentrates upon is the church.  Verse four of our text in 2 Thessalonians earns us:  

He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4, NIV)

Is this temple a physical temple which needs to be rebuilt in Jerusalem before the return of Christ?  Some argue it to be the case.  The question, of course, why does the temple need to be rebuilt if Christ has already fulfilled everything the temple stood for?  Will the Jews get another dispensation with another form of Gospel call, other than the calling to faith in Jesus Christ who had been revealed as God’s Messiah?  I wonder.  What Paul has in mind is not the visible temple building, but the church as the temple of God.  Peter writes:  

you … are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5, NIV)

Therefore, we need to look, not only at the physical stress we might need to go through but at spiritual deception.  It is a characteristic of the Devil to present as an angel of the light.  He will present himself as God’s prophet, but his message will be false and deceiving.  Paul writes:  

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10, NIV)

This what Satan did in paradise.  Adam and Eve did not recognize his deception and believed the lie.  They plunged all mankind afterward into sin.  This so-called “ministry” of Satan is continued in the work of the false prophet.  

Only the truth of the Bible as the infallible Word of God

Our ears should be open to the true Gospel.  It is when we can’t (or even won’t) abide by the truth that we could be devoured by the deception of the lie.  We need to display discernment based on the true message of the infallible Word of God.  Discernment, Spurgeon said, is the ability not to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, but the ability to distinguish between what is right and almost right.   

Those who do not know the truth of the Bible and hang on to that truth for dear life will be swept away in the lie.  Listen: 

 They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:10, NIV)

If we are unable to discern between truth and lie, we find ourselves in a perilous situation.  The next verse tells us why:  

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12, NIV)

Many voices are coming to us these days.  Some come with good-sounding arguments like, “I don’t believe that a God of love will…”  Can we just point out God’s judgment in the days of Noah and also on Sodom and Gomorrah?  What about the thousands of those who left Egypt to go to the Promised Land and never entered it because God said they will perish in the desert because of their rebellion?  Falling back on the “loving God”-argument will not stand in the day of reckoning.

When it comes to all arguments of sexuality and gender identity, which stands opposed to the word of God and the God-created order, people reject large parts of the Bible as myth or not applicable to our day.  Good Christians fall for the argument and stand on the verge of being swept up in the flood of delusion and the lie.  

Writing a (much confusing) article about gender fluidity, the Reverend Canon Professor Scott Cowdell of Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University and the Bible,  states 

… we might call sanctified reason which respects both Church tradition and … listens carefully as actual LGBTIQ people relate the riches and travails of their lived experience – completes the framework that God provides for us to work through these matters.

This professor calls for wisdom, not from the Bible only, but from the voice of life experience.  

The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA – this is not the PCA) made this statement:  

[The Assembly] …affirms its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of transgender people, people who identify as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities within the full life of the church and the world. …These affirmations and this commitment are rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the breadth of Scripture, and in the Reformed Tradition. Scripture affirms that all people are created in the image of God. In God’s creation, we see and experience God’s image expressed across a broad and life-giving expression of gender. Honoring the breadth and variety of our gender identities and expressions is one of the ways we can come to an even deeper understanding of who we are created to be in relationship to God and each other. 

The reason for quoting these paragraphs is to point to the danger of deception of the Lawless One who has entered the gates of God’s temple—the church.  Don’t wait for fo the rebuilding of a physical temple in Jerusalem to see the deception of the Lawless One!

The Word Council of Churches interprets love, peace, tolerance equality and human rights to include everyone and every teaching for about every possible religion.  Our eyes need to be wide open and our ears need to be pricked for false teaching and even so-called miraculous which go under the umbrella of religion.  If it does not pass the test of rigorous testing of the Scriptures, we might be caught up in heresy and even serve the goals and purposes of the Lawless One.  

Will in survive the attack of the Lawless One?

My dear friend in Christ, to answer this question you have to make out  two things for yourself

  • Do you take the Bible as your only rule for faith and life?  Is what the Bible teaches most important to you, or is it mostly important?  There is an enormous difference between most and mostly.  If the Bible is most important for you, you will not settle for what is almost truth.  It will determine the way you life, decisions you make in all aspects of life—even the TV programs you watch, and they way you spend your money and discharge of your talents, gists and time.  Take the life of the apostle Paul as an example—what he did and how he did it and where he did it was governed by the will of God for his life.
  • Do you know the Bible well enough to not be caught up in the flood of deception?  If you can defend the truth of the Bible against what is almost truth as the world tries to present it, you will stand.  God will give you the grace.  Trust Him for it.

Next week, God-willing, we will—with joy!—concentrate on why God will keep you from the harm of anti-Christ if you are a child of God.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 1 September 2019

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